Trends in investment in early help

With the summer budget about to take place, Anna Feuchtwang considers the importance of spending early to prevent problems later.

Politicians from across the political divide rarely come together to make a united stance. So when they all signed up to the early intervention cause at the start of the last parliament, it was a significant moment.

Five years on, with a new government preparing its spending plans, it’s important to take stock and try to establish what’s happened to early intervention spending.

What has happened to funding for early help services?

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‘Cuts that cost: Trends in funding for early intervention services’, an investigation by The Children’s Society and the National Children's Bureau (NCB) in collaboration with Children & Young People Now, sets out trends in funding from central Government, and in spending on early help services by Local Authorities.

This isn’t easy as there is no agreed definition of what constitutes this spending across central and local government, something which needs to be urgently addressed if there is to be an effective means of measuring spend and examining trends.

At present the only way to get an indication of funding for early intervention is by looking at the allocation that is included in the local government finance settlement each year. In 2010, a number of different funding streams for early intervention were pulled together into what was then called the Early Intervention Grant.

This included support for children’s centres; information and advice for young people including careers services; teenage pregnancy and substance misuse services; young offender and crime prevention services; family support services; and early years and children’s social care workforce development.  

The total value of the Early Intervention Grant when it was introduced was around £3.2 billion in today’s prices. By 2015 however, the value of the grant has been more than halved to around £1.4 billion. By the end of this financial year the allocation provided to local authorities will been cumulatively reduced by £6.8 billion

Early intervention funding by local authority

We have produced an interactive map which shows how changes in funding break down for each local authority in England. These changes are presented in real terms and all amounts are given in 2015-16 prices.

What has been the impact on Local Authority spending on Early Help?

The evidence is indisputable that the money available to councils for vital prevention and early help services such as children’s centres, youth facilities and advice services has been substantially reduced. But councils have done their best to cushion the blow and protect these services.

The data that is available from annual returns to the Department for Education shows that spending on children’s centres, young people’s and family support services fell by 24% in the five years to 2015 - a cut of over £700 million per year which is not as dramatic as the reduction in funding provided for early intervention services by central government. However it still amounts to cumulative spending reductions of over £1.5 billion over the five years to 2015.

It would appear that where possible local authorities have tried to protect services through doing things differently and creatively drawing on funds from elsewhere, such as the schools grant. And not surprisingly when government provided funding for family support through the Troubled Families programme it helped areas reconfigure provision.

What needs to be done?

It is far from straightforward trying to get a clear picture of the impact of reductions in spending on early intervention provision but what seems to be the case is that councils have tried to protect services as much as possible.

The question now is whether local authorities will be able to find sources of income or other ways to protect these services should further cuts be introduced, or whether they will have to make even more difficult decisions about the future of their services.

If government really wants to see a shift towards early intervention, rather than costly late intervention, there is no doubt it will have to prioritise early help funding to ensure local authorities can maintain these services.